The Gilded Age part 2

English: The western front of the United State...

English: The western front of the United States Capitol. The Neoclassical style building is located in Washington, D.C., on top of Capitol Hill at the east end of the National Mall. The Capitol was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In The Gilded Age by Mark Twain, Congressmen sold their votes for cash, stock and property. Corruption in the current Congress takes different forms. It is difficult to tell whether the current Congress is more or less corrupt than those of the original Gilded Age (we are living in the second Gilded Age). In Mark Twain’s day, US Senators were elected by state legislatures and therefore were more easily bought. Some on the Right want to repeal the 17th amendment that enacted the direct election of Senators by the people. That would be a bad idea, IMHO.

Corruption in Washington today is fostered by campaign contributions and the swarms of lobbyists who sometimes get their way by promising lucrative jobs after Congressional terms end. These are the five main lobbying groups that influence Congress to disregard the will of the people who elect them, listed in no particular order:

  1. Wall Street
  2. Wealthy/1%
  3. Israel supporters
  4. Military/industrial complex
  5. Big oil/gas

I believe that there are two things we can do to reduce corruption in Washington and to return the control of our legislators to the voters who elect them. First, we must get campaign cash out of the picture. I would do that with public financing of campaigns. All candidates would be required to submit petitions to be placed on the ballot, the number of signatures to be some fraction of the registered voters in the district or state. Challengers would receive more campaign funds than incumbents because incumbents usually have an advantage in name recognition. This would a good first step, but it would not be sufficient as long as Washington is overrun with lobbyists; voters lack lobbyists of their own. This is how I suggest changing that.

As a start, I would limit the number of lobbyists allowed to lobby government in Washington to 1000. I would divide that number into two parts, commercial lobbyists numbering 750 and public service lobbyists numbering 250. Each one would require a lobbying license to be heard in Congress. Public service lobbying licenses would be free and awarded by lottery. Good for one year and non-transferable, anyone could apply, but only individuals and true charities would qualify. No PACs posing as non-profits allowed.

Commercial lobbying licenses would be sold at auction to the highest bidders. Also valid for twelve months and non-transferable. If the average price of a lobbying license were $50 million, then the US Treasury would collect $37.5 billion in revenue each year from individuals and companies wanting to lobby government. Purchasers of licenses would be in the public record, and all contacts with government would also be required to be made immediately public in print and online. To prevent lobbyists from promising jobs to retiring legislators or regulators, those retiring from government would face a lifetime ban from ever owning a commercial lobbying license.

Please see The Gilded Age

The Gilded Age

Mark Twain in a handshake with John T. Raymond...

Mark Twain in a handshake with John T. Raymond, the actor who played Colonel Sellers in the stage adaptation of Twain’s “The Gilded Age”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Gilded Age by Mark Twain and Charles D. Warner. Since we are living in the second Gilded Age, I decided to read Mark Twain’s account of the original Gilded Age. The Gilded Age gave its name to the latter third of the 1800s, but Twain’s account was limited to corruption in Congress during the Grant presidency, 1869 to 1877. When we use the term the Gilded Age, we usually think of the oppression of the 99% by the 1% of the day. Certainly the original Gilded Age and today’s version feature excessive consumption by the wealthy,  poverty for the majority, deception by the media and corruption in the halls and offices of power.

Mark Twain

A portrait of the American writer Mark Twain t...

A portrait of the American writer Mark Twain taken by A. F. Bradley in New York, 1907. See also other photographs of Mark Twain by A. F. Bradley taken in March 1907 in New York on Mark Twain Project Online. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

England has William Shakespeare, the most quoted writer in english, and we have Mark Twain, the second most quoted writer in english. Twain’s english is closer to our modern english and is therefore easier to understand IMHO. As a student, I much preferred to read Twain’s works; Shakespeare was a chore in school.

These are two of the quotable sayings of Twain’s. “The coldest winter I ever saw was the summer I spent in San Francisco.” I still remember my first visit to San Francisco in June, 1963. I drove into town in a rented convertible from Sacramento. As I approached the city on Interstate 80, the temperature dropped steadily. Finally, I stopped and raised the convertible’s top. I was never to put it down again for the four days I spent there.

A second Twain saying, “A lie can travel halfway round the world while the  truth is putting its shoes on.” And that was before the internet and FOX News. I enjoy Twain’s sayings so much because they are usually short and make their points memorable using humor.

Mark Twain was also the author of The Gilded Age, which I am reading now for the first time. Since many are labeling the present day the Second Gilded Age, I decided to read it and I will write about it when I finish.